OREGON DUCKS MENS BASEBALL
Briefly, this team that scored few runs last season and didn't meet expectations of fans and pundits is off to a 7-1 start and is ranked in the top 20. Again, stay tuned. They could be pretty good!
SEATTLE MARINERS BASEBALL
I really don't believe there is any way the Seattle Mariners will compete with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels this season in baseball's American League West Division. The Angels signed premier free agent slugger Albert Pujols, and added a good pitcher in C.J. Wilson. Texas has been to the World Series the last couple of seasons, and they added international pitching sensation Yu Darvish. The Mariners tried to add slugging first baseman Prince Fielder and failed. But despite two successive craptastic seasons, things are not totally awful in Seattle.
The M's look to have a pretty good pitching staff again this season. The starting rotation is led once more by Felix Hernandez, 2010's American League Cy Young Award winner and a good pitcher again in 2011. Jason Vargas will be #2 in the order, followed most likely by Japanese Leaguer Hisashi Iwakuma. That should be a pretty good first three. The #4 and #5 slots will be filled from among rookies Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and Taijuan Walker; veteran Kevin Millwood; newcomer Hector Noesi; and holdovers Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush. I am betting on Beavan and Noesi to be the two to join Hernandez, Vargas and Iwakuma. In the bullpen, closer Brandon League is back, and he will be supported by George Sherrill, Shawn Kelley and Tom Wilhelmsen and several others probably from among Shawn Camp, Aaron Heilman, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chance Ruffin, Steve Delabar and those who didn't make the starting rotation. The bullpen, like the rotation, should be above average.
While pitching is not a problem for Seattle, the offense will be. The team has high hopes for continued development from youngsters Justin Smoak (first base), Dustin Ackley (second base), Mike Carp (left field/first base/designated hitter) and Kyle Seager (infield) along with young outfielders Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson.
They need better production from some veterans, including Ichiro Suzuki, whose hitting stats were some of the worst in baseball last year for a regular outfielder. Chone Figgins has been abysmal since they signed him as a free agent two years ago. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is one of the best fielders in baseball, but has had problems staying healthy and injury-free; he needs to have a comeback year. Shortstop Brendan Ryan is not a hitter at all but has a great glove and saves lots of runs. Miguel Olivo will see a good deal of time behind the plate, and despite having some skill in hitting the long ball, his hitting is really rather poor.
The team pins much of its hopes for help on offense in 2012 on newcomer Jesus Montero. Montero, a rookie, was acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees, whose general manager Brian Cashman says is the best player he has ever traded. Montero is one of the most highly-regarded hitting prospects to come along in quite a while. But the Mariners paid a steep price for him, giving up young starting pitcher Michael Pineda. And the price might seem even more steep considering that while Montero is a catcher, he is not regarded as a good one, with many thinking he is destined to be a designated hitter, or at best a first baseman. But it was a trade for a need (hitting), from an area of strength (pitching), so it could just work out fine. We'll have to wait a couple of years before we can really tell.
So if the Mariners can't beat out Texas or Los Angeles in their division this year, can they finish in third place, ahead of the Oakland Athletics? Definitely. It isn't much, but third place will be an improvement. And from going 61-101 in 2010 to 67-95 last year, improving .500 this year (81-81) is possible for Seattle. The Mariners are a work in progress, and this year will be one of transition for them. I just hope they can fire on more cylinders than not. I say 75-77 wins this year, and third place.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS BASKETBALL
Not sure what's going on with these guys... It has been a pretty frustrating season. Their year is half over, and they're muddling around the .500 mark and now playing poorly enough that a playoff appearance looks less likely for them all the time.
They still don't really have a general manager. They had a good one, Kevin Pritchard, but they let him go. From all indications, owner Paul Allen and his management group may not be too easy to get along with.
Has this resulted in the ball club hiring (and trading for) less-than-stellar ball players? Maybe. After Brandon Roy's knees finally gave out and he and the team agreed he would retire so they could get out from under his huge contract, things seemed like they might get better. But even with no knee cartilage left, Roy was still pretty good. This year they have been using Raymond Felton at point guard... he has been a poor shooter and has generally played erratic basketball. They signed free agent Jamal Crawford, who is great at time. But for every game where he is incredibly good, there will be a couple of others where he isn't good at all.
Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas were good "big men" in their time, but they are now old and getting brittle. Wesley Matthews is a good scorer but more of a sixth man than a starter. Gerald Wallace, acquired in a trade last season, is proving to be mostly just a slightly-better-than-average player. Coach Nate McMillan tends to use a short rotation of players, and rarely uses those who sit at the far end of the bench. And let's not even talk about the frustration with Greg Oden, the constantly-injured number one draft pick who will probably never fulfill his promise in the NBA because he has the knees of an octagenarian.
The Blazers have a couple of good things going for them: center/power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and forward Nicolas Batum. Both are young players with bright futures. If Portland can hang on to both of them and build the team around them I think they will do well down the road. But for this year?
There is talk of making a trade or two before the trade deadline (coming up soon), but after this season they will have some salaries coming off their books... so why bother with trades? They might as will just ride out this season and work on fixing the roster after the season. This season is enough of a mess already, I can't imagine adding more new players to the mix mid-stream. '
What looked like a team on the rise now looks like a team in transition.
EASTERN OREGON UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL
The men's and women's teams from EOU are going to their national NAIA tournaments again this year!